My son had a doctor’s appointment yesterday that required an hour’s drive to get there, without traffic. I knew I had to be careful when it was over about when we got back on the road to go home or that time would double, as the commute traffic would start. So when we walked out of the office, I had time on the brain.
But when we walked out of there, I noticed a lush green lawn in front of the office building and I thought it was the perfect place for them to burn off some energy before we climbed back into the car. It was the first day that had been cooler after another heat wave, so the feeling of Fall was finally in the air. As a result, when my 2 younger boys discovered a pile of brown, crisp leaves right beneath a Sycamore tree, it was only natural that they would gravitate toward leaf jumping.
But as soon as they started gathering up the leaves to make a mound for diving, I heard the words come tumbling out of my mouth. “Boys, we don’t have a lot of time to play. We have to grab lunch and get back on the road.” And then I stopped and thought about it. Were we really short on time? Did I actually need to cut their time short? It was only 12:30, after all. The kids weren’t clamoring to eat and we actually didn’t need to rush.
We had plenty of time before the traffic started (around 2 pm where I was) and even if we didn’t, what was the worst that would happen? Our drive would take longer? My oldest son would get to stay home alone longer? He certainly wouldn’t mind that. But what it showed me that my first inclination is to rush my kids. It’s instinctual for me to tell the kids that their time will be short because we have to go somewhere else or do something else, whether it is actually true or not.
In some instances, it is understandable why we are rushing. I mean, the mornings…need I say more? But what about those other times? As I thought about it, I realized I am always thinking about the next thing that we need to be doing. I divide up my day and activities into chunks of time on a giant To-Do List. Which would make sense on the days we have to be here, there and everywhere, but what about the days that we have more freedom in our schedule?
On those days, I am not working against the clock, even though I act like I am. I don’t really have to get dinner started by a particular time or check homework right then. Not really. That’s just my personal time table. Why do I have such a hard time letting them be? Is it simply a habit to rush them or is there something more to it?
I actually think it’s both. I am so used to telling my kids to hurry, that is has become my automatic response anytime we start something new that doesn’t seem like a requirement. But I also think that I get uncomfortable with just sitting and being. I am one of those “always needs to be doing at least 2 things” kind of people. I can’t just watch a movie with my kid- I have to be folding laundry too. Or if we are eating lunch, I am also checking my email.
When I am just doing one thing, like playing a board game with my youngest (that’s a #welldonemom moment for me!) and I make myself put down my phone, I think I usually lead with something like “Mommy can only play for a few minutes, though, because then I have to…” What? It’s always something. But usually it’s nothing urgent. It’s certainly isn’t often more pressing than getting a quiet moment with my youngest.
But I think I was seeing it, that time playing another torturous board game, as a moment wasted. A moment where I should be doing something. Instead of just being with him. Or just being period. Instead of seeing it as an opportunity where I could actually be in the moment and soak in his presence. His sparkling eyes that light up when we stop and play with him (3rd child after all) or his little chubby hands (that won’t be chubby much longer) that move his game piece haphazardly across the board. Those are things that matter, right? Being in the moment, experiencing motherhood through a game of Candy Land with my 3 year old.
It has become clear that not only am I missing these experiences because I am so busy looking to the next one, but so are my kids. They would have missed out on an amazing opportunity to experience one of the joys of fall by jumping in a pile of leaves if I had responded in my usual manner. I am so glad I caught myself and let them stay and play.
Notice I said glad? I am so over the mom guilt. All we can do is move forward with the knowledge we have now and do the best we can. So, from now on =) not only will I work on creating some buffer time in our schedules to stop and play in the leaves and whistle with blades of grass, but I am going to also work on being in the moment, when I am with my kids and even when I am by myself.
It’s that last one that is going to be the hardest. Sitting still and just being, not doing. For me, I will actually incorporate prayer and time with God into that practice. But for others it might be something like mindfulness, where you are paying attention to the world around you using your senses. You focus on the sounds around you, the birds chirping, the car honking and the things you feel as well. It can be as simple as the feeling of the couch under your legs or the straps of your sandals across the tops of your feet.
All of those things help us get in the moment, so we aren’t missing the big ones. Because even if the elderly woman at Target didn’t tell us, I think we all know how quickly these motherhood moments pass, how fast our kids grow and how, before we know it, we will be longing for these days where we get to do something as simple as watching our kids play in the leaves.